In the world of rifles there is perhaps no more iconic name than Mauser. Yes there’s Winchester, Remington, Holland & Holland, Rigby, and a few others than can arguably claim iconic status, but none have been more influential or more universal than this German company founded in 1871 on the banks of the Neckar River in Oberndorf.
There were several generations of Mauser bolt action designs beginning with the Model 1871, but its evolution reached its zenith in the form of the model of 1898. It is estimated that as many as 90 million military `98s have been manufactured in Germany and under license in other countries around the world. As a martial arm the sun has long since set on the bolt action rifle, but I hesitate to even guess as to how many “sporterized” `98s and custom rifles based thereon exist.
The production of sporting Mausers in Oberndorf pretty much ceased during the two world wars, and military production ended with the close of WWII. It would be 20 years before the world would see a new Mauser sporting rifle — the Model 66. If the Mauser peoples’ goal was to depart as radically as possible from the `98, they succeeded. The 66 was one of the most radical, most complicated bolt action rifles to have ever passed through my hands. It was far too out of the mainstream for American tastes and was imported only a few years.
Next came the Model 77, a rear-locking job, followed by the Model 96, a straight-pull design that ostensibly was Mauser’s answer to the Blaser R93 that had been introduced a couple years earlier and was rapidly gaining acceptance with European hunters (as of 2004 Mauser and Blaser are now owned by the same parent company, Luke & Ortmeier, and are being manufactured in the same factory in Isny, a small city in Bavaria not far from the Austrian border). Today there are four distinct models of Mauser bolt action rifles being manufactured in Isny, along with the Blaser R93 and R8 straight-pull rifles, and the F3 and F16 O/U shotguns.
By far, however, the most interesting of the four current Mauser offerings are the brand new M18 which was introduced just this year, and the M98, a superb recreation of the original commercial grade Mauser sporters. The two guns could not be more different; one was designed to meet a near entry-level price point, while the other virtually has no price point.
The M18 sent us for review chambered in .308 Win. represents the latest member of the fast-growing tri-lug “fat bolt” family that has characterized most of the new bolt action rifles introduced these past several years. Since most of you are familiar with the salient features that distinguish the genre, I’ll not go into any great detail except to say that the bolt is about .150” larger in diameter than your typical twin-lug action, allowing the locking lugs up front to be formed by machining metal away at the head. The lugs thus formed, however, are inherently smaller and of less depth, so there has to be more of them. Instead of having two large, twin-opposed locking lugs, there are three (or multiples of three), oriented on 120-degree centers. The result is that only a 60-degree bolt rotation (handle lift) is required. With there being no protruding locking lugs on the bolt, only a round hole is needed for its raceway. When mated to a bar stock tubular receiver and set into a synthetic stock, a complete rifle can be produced very economically. Consider: this new Mauser M18 carries an MSRP of $699! And it’s made in Germany, where we’re accustomed to seeing rifles carrying price tags that start at four or five times as much!
The M18 exhibits all the design features that allow for economic production. The receiver is indeed tubular and fashioned from bar stock. The bolt is also machined from bar stock to which a separate handle is pegged. There is no washer-type recoil lug sandwiched between the barrel and receiver; rather, a simple transverse slot at the bottom of the receiver ring is engaged by a steel plate imbedded in the stock. In its middle position the 3-position side safety blocks sear movement but allows the action to be cycled; fully rearward it also locks the action. The bolt stop/release is a simple pivoting lever on the left side of the receiver bridge.
About the only feature found on this rifle and not on others of the genre is that it has not one, but two plunger-type ejectors in its recessed bolt face. I can only assume this redundancy is to provide extra ejection reliability. Oh, and the action screws are also different. Instead of conventional machine bolts to mate stock and barreled action, threaded posts are permanently attached to the receiver, and hex-headed nuts are used.
As for the stock, it’s injection molded with an integral trigger guard bow. Style-wise there’s no drooping comb, Bavarian-style cheekpiece or sliver-like fore-end; it’s mainstream American classic all the way. The detachable, flush-fitting polycarbonate magazine stores cartridges in a stagger row and is among the best DMs I’ve seen.
All the aforementioned production economies result in a good-looking, highly serviceable rifle that makes no compromises in terms of performance, yet is in the financial reach of Everyman. In fact, Mauser touts the M18 as “The Peoples’ Rifle,” and in so doing takes a page from history. I’m referring of course to the rolling out of “The Peoples’ Car” or Volksvagon in 1938.
Which brings us to the “Other Mauser,” the M98. Re-introduced in 2017 in magnum calibers and this year in standard chamberings, it’s a rifle that will appeal to anyone with discernment, an appreciation of firearms history…and who has $8000 to spend! Actually, that’s the price of the entry-level Expert model; the Diplomat is a deluxe version that goes for $9627, and the Magnum Diplomat for $14,381!
I say “re-introduced” because these guns are built to original blueprint specs used for the original sporting versions of the Model `98 as produced in Oberndorf starting with the very first year of the 20th century. As incredibly busy as the Mauser factory was with military contracts, there was always a special division where sporting versions of the `98 were painstakingly crafted by master gunsmiths. The various commercial models were categorized into five basic “Types.” In the 1930 Mauser catalog, for example, five such Types are listed: Type A guns were designed primarily for the British market; Type B for the European market; while Types K, S and M comprised the various spec choices among short rifles and carbines. Each Type was broken down into “Patterns,” followed by a numeral, e.g., Type B, Pattern 40, which specified a round 23.62” barrel, double set triggers, and a two-leaf rear sight. All told there were 45 Patterns listed in 1930, which was probably the height of sporting rifle production at Oberndorf.
Anyway, the example sent us was the Expert model appropriately chambered in the most classic of all German calibers, the 8x57JS. As previously stated, these rifles are now produced in Mauser’s modern manufacturing facility in Isny using original blueprints, in conjunction with state-of-the-art CNC machinery and metallurgy. Naturally, technological advancements have dictated some changes but they’ve been minimal. The most obvious outward change can be seen in the bolt shroud; instead of the 3-position wing-type safety that rotates radially around the bore axis like on the military `98, it’s a Model 70 Winchester-type rotating around a vertical axis. It functions the same, however, in that when pulled rearward to its middle position, the striker is withdrawn from contact with the sear, but the action can still be cycled. When pulled to its fully rearward position, the action is locked. If the bolt is pulled free of the receiver with the safety in its middle position, the entire bolt shroud and striker assembly can unscrewed from the bolt body without tools for routine maintenance.
The other outward change is the absence of the thumb slot just forward of the receiver bridge; it was an ergonomic feature that made it easier to load five cartridges at a time into the magazine using a stripper clip. All commercial post-war copies of the `98 action also did away with the thumb slot — firms line FN, Husqvarna, La Coruna (Santa Barbara) and Zastava (Mark X). Some original Mauser sporters also had this feature.
Other than the aforementioned changes, the rest is pure `98 Mauser — controlled round feeding; the non-rotating extractor riding side saddle on the bolt body; the lever-style bolt stop/release; the one-piece trigger guard/magazine — it’s all there, superbly machined, polished, and wearing a gorgeous black, plasma nitride metal finish.
The 22” barrel carries a superb set of barrel band iron sights; the rear is an indestructible standing leaf windage-adjustable within a dovetail; the ramp front is a gold bead that’s adjustable for elevation. The forward sling swivel base is also mounted on a barrel band.
The visual impression of any rifle, however, is dictated primarily by its stock, and this one, fashioned from a highly figured chunk of Grade 5 French Walnut, embodies understated elegance. Except for the oval-shaped cheekpiece which suggests European influence, all other aspects of the stock geometry are pure American neo-classic. The straight comb is parallel with the bore line, and the grip curve is shallow, ending in a blued steel cap emblazoned with the Mauser logo. The receiver is pillar bedded to preclude wood compression over time, but just to be sure, the receiver and the first inch or so of the barrel are glass bedded. Testifying to a stress-free bedding dynamic is the fact that the action screws go from loose to dead tight is less than a quarter turn, at which time their slots are perfectly aligned with the bore. The same goes for the two screws that secure the grip cap.
Because we’re discussing two rifles here, this article was not meant to be a comprehensive range test and evaluation, but we simply couldn’t let them pass through our hands without shooting them! So, to ready the guns for a little range work we mounted a Nikon 6-24×50 Monarch scope on the M18 using Millett Weaver-style rings. For the M98 we used Mauser’s proprietary HexaLock QD lever rings and bases that allow scope detachment in a matter of seconds without tools to mount a Burris 4.5-14×42. The only ammo we were able to get on short notice was from Hornady, who list two 8×57 loads; a 195 grain Spire Point and a 196 grain HPBT. Both Norma and Federal were out of stock and production runs were not scheduled for several more weeks, so we just went with the Hornady loads. For the M18 we had Hornady’s 178 grain Precision Hunter ELD-X, Federal’s 168 grain Gold Medal Match, and Norma’s 150 grain Kalahari. Not surprisingly, the match load performed best in the Peoples’ Rifle, averaging an impressive .9” for three 3-shot groups from the bench at 100 yards. The Norma load was close behind with a 1.1” average, and the Hornady at 1.35”. That is well above average for a 6-1/2 lb. lightweight sporter. The trigger broke like a glass sliver at 3-1/4 lbs. and it too was well above average for a rifle in its price class. And the magazine? An absolute joy to load; you just push the rounds straight down through the feed lips. Like other guns of the fat bolt genre, the M18 will appeal to value-conscious hunters and shooters, but in this case they also get the panache of owning a genuine made-in-Germany Mauser.
As for the M98? What I can I say? It’s like holding history in your hands. It is nothing less than one of the most iconic rifles of all time, exquisitely recreated and crafted to the highest standards of the gunsmithing art. Yes it shot well, very well indeed, as the HPBT load averaged 1.1” and the SP 1.3”, but benchrest accuracy it ain’t, and the lucky few who can afford this rifle don’t expect it. What they do expect is the Rolls Royce of bolt action rifles, and in the Mauser M98 that’s what they get.
In addition to the 8×57, the Expert and Diplomat are chambered in 7×57, 9.3×62, .308 Win. and .30-06. The Diplomat Magnum is offered in .375 H&H, .416 Rigby and .450 Rigby. As for the M18, besides .308 Win., it can be had in .243, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Win., .30-06, 7mm Rem. and .300 Win.–Jon R. Sundra